There were two essays in Saturday’s NYTimes by two different writers about two very different stories and focused on two places in two different parts of the country but if one digs only a little, their messages were the same, viz. there is something fundamentally flawed with our national priorities and the way we govern ourselves.
The first column titled “Unhold us, Senators,” was by Gail Collins and involves a bill about a National Women’s History Museum that is currently stalled in the Senate. [Here] The bill would allow a group called--yep, you guessed--National Women’s History Museum to buy a piece of federal land on D.C.‘s Independence Avenue, a site which Collins described as “unlovely.” The group promises to pay “fair market value” for the land and would raise all the money for construction. If for some unforseen reason the group cannot raise all the money and does not break ground within five years, the unused money and property would revert back to the government.
Have you ever heard of a better win/win deal? Meryl Streep was in Washington to kick off a fundraiser for the project and has already donated $1 million dollars to the project. So it has high profile attention and support. So what’s the matter? What’s holding it all up?
Two Senators, Jim DeMint (R, SC) and Tom Coburn (R, OK) have put holds on the bill and it‘s hard to figure out why. The bill has already passed unanimously in the House and a similar bill (same purpose, but different site) unanimously passed the Senate in a previous session.
Why DeMint is against the bill is a puzzlement. Maybe he was just too busy to pay much attention and let a staffer handle it. (And with the new GOP Pledge To America written by a staffer, we have a clue as to the reach of staffers' power.)
And as for the reasons for Tom Coburn’s hold on the bill, the Senator’s office replied that he was concerned that if the women couldn’t raise the money that was needed, taxpayers would have to contribute. (Heavens to Betsy!) Coburn’s office also sent a note to Gail Collins which said that this project replicates other projects already in existence, such as the Quilters Hall of Fame in Indiana, the National Cowgirl Museum and Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Texas, and so on. (Does it strike you that there are times when these Senate boys behave as if they are auditioning for Comedy Central?)
Maybe the boys will sober up and take this project seriously when they realize that Streep flew off to England to star in a new movie about Margaret Thatcher, the English Conservative Party’s iconic Prime Minister.
The second opinion piece in Saturday’s NYTimes was by the excellent Bob Herbert, titled “We Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet.” [Here] Herbert reported on a visit he made to a soup kitchen and resource center called Master’s Manna in Wallingford, Conn., which is inland along the Quinnipiac River, just northeast of that tony, gated community in Greenwich where the President went to fundraise last week.
The clients of Master’s Manna are the folks whose existence the GOP would like to deny. If forced to acknowledge them, the GOP leadership claim they are lazy or are gaming the system. Herbert quoted Cheryl Bedore who runs the program as saying: [Here]
The minute you open the doors, it’s like a wave of desperation that’s hitting you...People are depressed, despondent. They’re on the edge, especially those who have never had to ask for help before.
In recent weeks she reports that homeless folks have been parking overnight in back and sleeping in their cars. And the local police have allowed them to stay. Recently two cars with children have driven up. We must wonder what they will do as the cold New England winter approaches.
Ms. Bedore pointed out that while many people have lost their jobs, others have lost the 40-hour work week or full-time employment. She added:
Kids are going back to school now, so they need clothes and school supplies. Where is the money for that to come from? The people we’re seeing never expected things to turn out like this — not at this stage of their lives. Not in the United States. The middle class is quickly slipping into a lower class.
This sad picture is not restricted to the Quinnipiac River Valley in Connecticut, as you know. The economic recession has stretched across the country and little political attention from either party is addressing the issue of poverty. Certainly the GOP is not. The Collins essay shows us clearly that the rules of the Senate need changing if obstruction becomes the single driving motive of one of our political parties. And Bob Herbert once again reminds us of the forgotten poor in our society.
Yes, two different essays but the warning to us is the same. Beware of a party who only knows “NO!”
And beware of a system that lets them get away with it...